Loading articles...

National park in Northwest Territories to have significant aboriginal input

Last Updated Jul 29, 2015 at 7:20 pm EST

River water falls over a rock ledge in a forested scene in the Northwest Territories in a handout photo. The likely boundaries of a vast new protected area in the Northwest Territories, called Thaidene Nene, have been revealed.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Parks Canada-David Murray

LUTSEL K’E, N.W.T. – The expected boundaries of a vast new protected area in the Northwest Territories have been revealed, along with the unique relationship Parks Canada is to have with the aboriginal people who live there.

“This is not your grandfather’s national park,” said Steve Nitah, head negotiator for the local Dene.

Federal, territorial and aboriginal officials were on hand Wednesday in the remote community of Lutsel K’e to outline the negotiated extent of Thaidene Nene (pronounced tie-DEH-nay NEH-nay), which means Land of the Ancestors in Dene.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Nitah said.

Thaidene Nene —originally proposed in the 1970s — is to cover 27,000 square kilometres of spectacular and pristine waterways, forests and Canadian Shield around the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake.

About 14,000 square kilometres is to be managed as a national park. Another 12,000 square kilometres is to become either territorial park or protected caribou habitat. The land under territorial control would have similar protections to the national park.

But nothing will be done on any of it without hearing from the Dene, Nitah said.

They are guaranteed a role with federal staff in planning, managing and operating all aspects of the park, said Nitah. They will be able to continue to hunt, fish and use the land in all the traditional ways they have for centuries.

“They’re going to be involved — very involved — in many aspects of the park management,” said Kevin McNamee, director of protected areas establishment for Parks Canada.

McNamee said the final agreement on co-management has yet to be signed. But he said Parks Canada is giving local communities — especially aboriginal communities — more say when it creates new protected areas.

“What Parks Canada has done is be a leader in establishing and involving a collaborative relationship with aboriginal people.”

Nitah acknowledged that the boundaries going out for public consultation are significantly smaller than the original ones. About 8,000 square kilometres have been withdrawn because they are thought to hold resource potential.

“It was very important for the government of the Northwest Territories that that happen. I think we’ve done well in representing our interests in ensuring that very key ecological and cultural areas were protected.”

N.W.T. Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger makes no apologies for hiving off about a quarter of the original proposal.

“There’s considerable mineral wealth, real and potential,” he said. “There’s diamonds for sure. There’s some potential uranium. We haven’t done the mineral assessments necessary in all areas.”

Miltenberger said the remaining land is large enough to protect the ecosystem and will also connect with conservation areas to the east, such as the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary.

Thaidene Nene includes both boreal forest and tundra threaded with lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The east arm of Great Slave Lake boasts spectacular cliffs and islands and some of the deepest freshwater in North America.

Wildlife includes moose, muskoxen, wolves, bears, wolverines, many species of birds and fish and the Beverly-Ahiak barren-ground caribou herd.

Thaidene Nene is a Dene homeland, said Nitah.

“Our whole memory and understanding of who we are comes from there. Our culture and language is pretty tied to the land.”

The boundaries will now go out for public comment. Once that’s complete, legislation creating the park and outlining its implementation must be drafted and passed.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960.